To have, to share and to give: The meaning of a sharing economy and those it serves
On 23 April, the first international conference on collaborative consumption, or the sharing economy, took place in Moscow. Under this business model, people and companies exchange goods and services, rent them out or sell them. The sharing economy is becoming increasingly popular in Russia in the light of the growing trend towards sustainable development and collaborative consumption.
A “sharing economy” involves people exchanging cars, equipment, clothes and even holiday homes. “It allows people to share items they no longer use and earn money from them”, said Alexandra Dorf, founder of Sher.ru.
The future “green” economy
It is called a “green” economy because it promotes a range of urban issues such as car sharing services (there are already more than 10 in Moscow); helping to improve the environment by reducing traffic levels; food sharing as a means of helping those in need thereby reducing waste, and co-working to solve the problem of office space.
The sharing economy serves the needs of millennials (i.e. those born between 1980 and 2000) who are increasingly mindful of the environmental consequences of their actions. Responsible consumption has become a trend in recent years, according to Dmitry Bykov, Director of Design at “Yandex.market”. Bykov gives the example of the #Trashtag project aimed at keeping a local environment clean. People clear up litter in an area, then post photos before and after the event to their network.
“The sharing economy is a model for making a profit without using up new resources, with its most positive benefit being protecting the environment and natural resources for future generations. This type of economy creates new jobs and makes the State more competitive”, said Anton Gubnitsyn, Head of the RAEK/Sharing Economy Cluster.
Sharing services are seen as a way of transforming the traditional linear economy (resource extraction, production, consumption and waste) into a closed cycle model where a new approach is applied to each link in the chain, making the whole system more “green” and efficient, said the expert.
It’s worth mentioning here the economic benefits of a sharing approach. According to research carried out by the TIAR Centre, total turnover in the sharing economy in Russia in 2018 amounted to 511 billion roubles. More than 70% relates to Customer-to-Customer (C2C) commerce (i.e. the sale and exchange of personal items between individuals). All this suggests that there are very few firms in Russia who are providing shared services, said Gubnitsyn.
Bread as an instrument of a shared economy
Sharing is the newest example of corporate social responsibility. Aleksey Panov, Digital Marketing Director at “Bread for the needy”, tells of how in 2012 his company discussed what they should do with bread left over in their café chain every day. “Our cafes sell fresh bread each day. You can never be 100% sure when predicting sales which means there are nearly always unsold bakery goods at the end of the day. As a result our CEO came up with the idea of distributing bread to those in need”, said Panov.
The network’s management therefore took the decision to donate unsold goods to NGOs, with each of their 45 Moscow cafes now having its own partner NGO.
“We are trying to work with small local bodies and residents who are near our cafes. We also have a waiting list of NGOs who are anxious to see cafes opening in their areas”, said the expert.
One of the issues faced by these types of initiatives is the lack of any legislative underpinning which is of concern to Alexander Chulka of the Higher School of Economics. “The sharing concept is a positive social trend and there’s nothing wrong with building a business around it. The idea of sharing food is gaining ground. The Brazilian restauranteur, David Hertz, has cooked meals from waste food and organised charity lunches, as well as establishing social canteens where people are able to eat cheaply”, he said.
According to Yulia Nazarova, President of the “Rus” charity, French law bans supermarkets over a certain size from throwing away food and are obliged to donate leftover food to food banks. Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply in Russia. Moreover, throwing food away is more economic than giving it to those in need. A third of all the world’s goods are recycled. We are not only losing these products but also the resources used in food production which is causing severe environmental damage. There is a solution. We must give those in need access to food which is being thrown away”, said Nazarova.
The “Rus” charity operates the only food bank in Russia. It collects food and other basic essentials and distributes them among poor families and pensioners. “We pass food on to our partner organisations and, in the process, have donated six million kilograms of food and non-food items over the past year”, she said.